Q:I’d like to start making larger batches of food that will freeze or otherwise keep, to save time later and eat better food (I tend to go out if there’s nothing in the larder!). Any recommendations as far as what can be made in big batches? I love stews and soups.
A: My passion is shopping for fresh food, just before I cook the meal. I love planning a menu, while walking the aisles of the marketplace. That said, I must confess that I secretly desire leftovers, every time I sit down to eat. My mother always has leftovers in her refrigerator. And they always taste better than the first time around.
What you want is suggestions for “planned leftovers.” And that is an admirable request. Thinking this through, I arrived at a compromise. Cook some parts of a meal ahead, and round out the menu with some fresh ingredients.
My first choice – and all-time favorite – for cooking ahead is roasted chicken. Meat cooked on the bone is especially moist, and whole chickens cost a lot less per pound than cut chicken. But who has time to roast a whole chicken for a weekday dinner? It takes approximately 2 to 2 ½ hours to cook, plus carving time. So, planning ahead on the weekend is a win-win situation for you and your family.
First, cut-off the wingtips and tail. Combine them with the neck and giblets (no liver) in a small saucepan. Cover with 4 cups cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook the broth as long as you roast the bird – now you’ve got your own homemade broth to make gravy! Stick a whole roaster or capon (approx. 5-6 pounds) in the oven; baste with flavored broth, herbs and lemon juice.
After roasting is finished set the bird aside for 30 minutes to cool. Let the carving begin. Peel-off all skin and discard. There goes the fat. Remove the wings, drumsticks and thighs. Quickly cover and refrigerate – you can reheat and serve these pieces later in the week, with rice and vegetables. With a small, sharp knife, carefully remove each cooked breast from the carcass in one piece. Wrap each breast in plastic wrap and refrigerate quickly. You now have two big, boneless slabs of cooked, low-fat, moist meat to slice or dice for casserole, fricassee, stir-fry, entree salad, stew, or chili later in the week.
What you have left is a carcass – a rich source of broth and chicken meat. Break the carcass in half, at the backbone, just behind the breast. Place the two pieces in a large soup pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for one hour. Strain the broth from the pot into a large refrigerator container. Set the two carcass pieces aside to cool. Pick the cooked meat from the carcass and place the meat in the broth.
Discard the bones. Cover the broth and refrigerate – use it within five days. When you are ready for a hearty, meal-size soup later in the week, use this chicken broth with meat for a base. Add cut fresh onion and celery and frozen vegetables. Toss in your favorite dried herbs. Add some body with tiny pasta, rice, couscous or quick cooking barley. In 15 to 20 minutes, you have a satisfying bowl of homemade soup filled to the brim with good food.
Wow! I got carried away with the “whole chicken concept.” That’s a start for you.